Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bob Barr Blusters: Pres Nomination Campaigns don't "affect change"??!!

ElectionDissection ventured over to the National Press Club for a couple of press conferences today.   The first featured Ron Paul with his by-now-signature unfocused, “aw shucks” style with which he urged his acolytes – and the American electorate at large – to reject McCain and Obama and consider any of four third party candidates.  Green nominee and former Dem. Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney, independent perennial Ralph Nader and far-right Constitution Party standard bearer “Pastor Chuck” Baldwin were all on hand to bask in Dr. Paul’s glow.  Libertarian Party nominee, former GOP Georgia U.S. Rep. Bob Barr pointedly declined the invite.

Half an hour later, Barr responded with a press conference of his own.  Barr and his top aide, former Ross Perot campaign honcho Russ Verney, explained Barr’s absence that morning, with Barr insisting that his bid offers “bold, focused, specific leadership,” not Ron Paul’s “amorphous kind that says ‘any of the above’ or ‘none of the above.’”  Barr asserted that the goal of his campaign is to amass as many votes as possible, hoping to affect policy change in his direction; a worthy and very reasonable goal for a third party candidate determined to run an actual political campaign, seeking actual votes, not just to hit the college lecture circuit and bloviate ad nausea. 

Barr’s and Verney’s “we’re the grownups here” mein bordered on farce.  Barr got so wrapped up in the “we’re not goofing around here” meme that, invoking Verney’s old boss Perot repeatedly, he asserted the patently preposterous claim that primary campaign vote totals, and failed nomination campaigns, are irrelevant; rather, building significant general election vote totals is the only way for alternative presidential candidates to affect policy change.  This is indubitably true for segregationist George Wallace’s 1968 American Independent bid that first identified “Reagan Democrats” among Northern Urban Ethnics and rural Southern Democrats and liberal Republican John Anderson’s 1980 indie bid that gave us sneak peaks at segments of the coalition that vaulted Obama to the Democratic nomination this year.  But for the highest vote getting third party bid in modern electoral history – Ross Perot’s snaring of nearly one in five votes in 1992 – the jury is still out as for its long term impact.

Barr’s claim was made to counter claims that Paul’s 1.2 million primary season votes did more than Barr’s effort will to further a libertarian agenda.  There is a question to be considered that Paul’s 2008 primary totals – as scattered as his message – may tell us less about a long-term libertarian vote trend than does Ed Clark’s 1980 Libertarian Party high water mark. 

Nevertheless, the litany countering Barr’s ludicrous contention is a long and venerable one.  

Let’s start with Wallace: the 670,000 votes and 3.75 million votes he garnered, respectively, in his upstart 1964 and 1972 Democratic nomination bids were dwarfed by the 9.9 million votes he attracted in his 1968 indie bid, but reinforced to Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips that millions of those voters – especially in states like Wisconsin in ’64 or in Maryland and Michigan in ’72 – who might never have voted for him in a general, or before his assassination attempt, were up for grabs.  Peeling these proto-Reagan Democrats away built the Conservative Coalition that governed under Reagan during his first term. 

Eugene McCarthy’s quixotic bid for the 1968 Democratic bid may have been as unfocused as Paul’s this year, but his 2.9 million votes forced the incumbent president, LBJ, to withdraw from consideration for re-nomination and marked the first electoral inklings of popular discontent over the Vietnam War that culminated in Nixon – the staunch anti-communist – pulling US forces out of Indochina a few years later. 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s nearly 10 million votes between his 1984 and 1988 bids put his slice of urban America’s agenda on the table, arguably prompting passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 in a still conservative-oriented Congress and signed by a Republican president.    

Walter Mondale famously ridiculed Gary Hart’s “new ideas” bid for the 1984 Democratic nomination with the then-popular fast food chain ad refrain, “Where’s the beef?”  But the third of the Democratic primary vote and 1200 delegates that Hart’s platform attracted - a melding of cosmopolitan social liberalism with an appreciation of foreign trade and a recognition that market forces can’t be dismissed - took most observers by surprise and challenged the union orthodoxy that Mondale accepted.  Hart’s “New Democrat” agenda presaged the moderate Democratic Leadership Council from which Bill Clinton launched his successful bid for the 1992 Democratic nomination and upon whose agenda he generally governed during his tenure.  Nearly a quarter century later, Hillary Clinton reverted to Mondale’s playbook, but came up short against Barack Obama who racked up huge majorities among the very voters Hart first identified. 

Two more examples stand out because of the candidates’ associations with associates of Barr’s campaign in 2008:

Barr advisor and conservative direct mail guru Richard Viguerie keynoted the Libertarian convention this year.  Viguerie supported Ronald Reagan’s nearly victorious challenge to President Gerald Ford’s re-nomination in 1976, and tried to lure Reagan to a splinter conservative third party when Ford finally secured the GOP nod.  Of course, Reagan built upon the momentum of that strong ’76 bid to win the White House four years later, launching his “Reagan Revolution.”

A Call to Economic Arms” was the theme of Paul Tsongas’ 1992 campaign that attracted unexpected support among Democratic primary voters.  Ross Perot – Verney was his spokesman – built upon Tsongas’ momentum in the fall, memorably campaigning with a series of charts to illustrate the federal fiscal dangers both these “deficit hawks” feared.  Bill Clinton’s first term stabs at getting the federal budget under control can be attributed to both Tsongas’ nomination and Perot’s general election campaigns.  

1 comment:

SayNO said...

Say NO to McBama!

Say NO to Republicrats!

Say NO to Establishment media outlets!

Say NO to bipartisan trashing of the Constitution!

Cast a protest vote for a 3rd party presidential candidate of your choice.

Tell everyone why you will vote against the lesser of two evils.

Tell everyone who you will vote for.

Tell everyone what you think.

Be heard:

"The strongest message can be sent by rejecting the two party system... This can be accomplished by voting for one of the non-establishment, principled candidates." - Ron Paul